A Brief Version of the Lynching of Ell Persons on May 22, 1917
In May, 1917 the decapitated body of a 16 year old white girl, named Antoinette Rappel, a student at Treadwell School, was found at the old Wolf River Bridge near what is now Summer Ave. Suspicion fell on Ell Persons, an African American woodcutter who lived nearby. Persons was arrested twice, interrogated twice and released twice before being captured a third time and reportedly beaten into a confession.
Upon his capture by a mob local papers announced that he would be burned the next morning. The crowd gathered to watch was estimated at 3,000. Vendors set up stands among the crowd and sold sandwiches and snacks. It was reportedly a carnival-like atmosphere.
Persons was hauled to a cleared space beside the abutment on the west side of the river. Containers of gasoline were poured over his body. Some complained that too much gasoline was used and he burned too fast.
Once his charred body had cooled, he was decapitated, and the severed head was photographed and printed on postcards.
No one was ever arrested for the crime.